'On The Row, You Never See The Stars' - Gary Haugen On Death Row

By Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
Portland, OR Sept. 26, 2011 6 a.m.

Tuesday a judge in Salem will hold a competency hearing for convicted killer Gary Haugen. Haugen wants to waive all his appeals to the death sentence and proceed to execution. But his former lawyers have raised questions about his mental competency.

Kristian Foden-Vencil spoke to Haugen by phone from prison. We’ll also hear from the widow of one of the people Haugen’s convicted of murdering.


A warning: this story may be disturbing to some listeners and readers.

Gary Haugen has been in jail for 30 years. He arrived when he was 19 -- after murdering his girlfriend's mother.

Gary Haugen

Four years ago, he was moved from the prison's general population to death row for killing a fellow inmate.
He says one reason he wants to be executed is to end his time on death row.

"Hey, it's hell. Be away from your family, be away from your loved ones. Watch all your people die while you sit in this little 9 by 8 cage. The difference between the row and population is that you're stuck with the same 30 some odd people in the same spot for however many years you're on the row fighting," Haugen said

Haugen's day starts at about 5:30 in the morning. He'll have breakfast, then perhaps do some orderly work sweeping or mopping. Then he'll read, watch TV, listen to music or lift weights. He's allowed outside for an hour each day. But he used to be able to spend more time outdoors, when he was in the prison's general population.

"You can actually be out under the stars at a certain point of the year like right now for a time being. Whereas on the row, you never see the stars," Haugen said.

That's his physical existence. But since waiving his appeals, it's his mental competency that people want to know about.

Haugen says he's completely competent. And that he's had so many psychological evaluations now he knows all the doctor's questions, and the answers.

He's particularly angry at his former lawyers for raising the question in the first place.

"Competency to die. Competency to -- you know -- they say if you argue against taking the test. If you argue against incompetency then you're incompetent. So you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't," Haugen said.

Haugen is a big guy, 6 foot 3 inches, with a huge chest. And sitting across from him at court, his prison garb doesn't cover the tattoos on his neck, face and arms.

Haugen admits to being depressed, saying anybody who isn't depressed on death row has real problems.
He also says he takes two medications -- Klonopin and Neurontin -- which he says help him sleep and control his mood.  Manufacturers say they're also prescribed to control seizures, to relieve pain and to calm panic attacks.

But the question is, does the medication effect his ability to make an important decision -- like waiving his appeals?

"No. It might slow it down sometime,  might make me think about it a little harder if anything. But what it does is it affects my mood and just makes me. Most of the things that go on around here is like water of a duck's back. I just, it doesn't even bother me," Haugen said.

"I don't think for one minute he's not mentally capable, " says Clarinda Perez, the widow of David Polin, the inmate Haugen was convicted of murdering in 2003.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Clarinda Perez, widow of one of Haugen's victims.

"If you don't know what he's done, it's hard to imagine that he's capable of doing something like that. He's very eloquent. He's a very intelligent man. You spend a little bit of time in the courtroom, you can tell."

In the courtroom, the state said Haugen killed Polin because he believed mistakenly, that Polin told officials about the drug use of a friend.

Prosecutors say Haugen and another inmate, Jason Brumwell, stabbed Polin more than 80 times and crushed his skull.

Brumwell is also on death row.


Haugen won't talk much about the Polin case, except to say he didn't do it.

But Perez has no doubts.

"My whole life I had this outlook that there's not any bad people in life. They are the way they are because something has happened to them, or that their experiences in life have made them bitter. But those people showed me that there are bad people, like for no good reason."

Sitting on a wall outside a restaurant in Hillsboro, she describes Haugen as an "alpha male" who loves the limelight. She remembers him at court during his trial for her husband's murder.

"The first look I ever had at him was real smug. Smiling. He winked at me and said 'good morning Ms. Pollen. You're looking mighty pretty today.'  It was just really antagonistic, really cocky, really bold personality. He loved it. He would sit in the courtroom and just like look and smile at the whole crowd and just love the whole crowd looking at him."

Back on death row, Haugen has had 30 years to think about his life. The first crime that sent him to prison was the murder of his then-girlfriend’s mother, Mary Archer.

Prosecutors say he broke into  Archer's house, raped her, then beat her with a hammer and baseball bat.
Haugen says Archer was trying to persuade her daughter --  his girlfriend -- to abort his child.  He says the two small tattoos at the corner of his eye, recall that time.

"The tattoo of the teardrop is for the relationship that I never had with my daughter because of my actions. The dot behind the tattoo is for Mary Archer. You know people can sit back and say he doesn't have regret because he acts this way or that way in the penitentiary. But the bottom line is I am in the penitentiary and I'm in a f---ing war zone Kristian. You know There's a handful of people that are close to me who know the amount of remorse that I have for things that I've done in life."

Back in Hillsboro, Perez says she thinks Haugen's experience on death row convinced him to give up his appeals.

"Why would you want to spend the rest of your life in a place like that? When in the regular prison, before he got convicted of this, it was basically home to him. He can go out to the yard, socialize, walk. Have all the drugs he wanted. Have the food he wanted. Anything that you can get out here, you can get in there. In death row you can't do that, you're in a cell for 23 hours in a day. I can only imagine that's why he looks done and weathered. And to have the knowledge that you're going to spend another 15 years doing that, of course you're going to want to die."

Perez says her views on his execution have changed. She used to want him to be put to death. Now she says, she's not against it. But it wouldn't give her any relief.

"Him dying is not going to change anything. The only thing I can say is he's not going to be able to kill again.”

Perez also acknowledges there maybe another reason her views have changed. She doesn’t want the state to give Haugen what he wants -- in this case, his own execution.

“I think that if he just wants to die, death is an easy way out for people if they're living in an miserable circumstance."

Marion County Circuit court judge, Joseph Guimond, holds a mental competency hearing Tuesday. He has said he'll decide afterwards whether to make Haugen's psychological evaluation public.

Kristian Foden-Vencil discussed the "story behind the story" on Monday's Think Out Loud.

Previous coverage:

Haugen's Evaluation To Remain Confidential


Death Row Inmate Set For Psychological Evaluation


New Hearing Set In Death Penalty Case


New Psychological Exam Ordered For Death Row Inmate


Judge Moves To Cancel Execution


Execution Foes Want Court To Intervene